The Earth is a complex system. Earthquakes are the outer expression of its internal complexity. Whenever an earthquake occurs, seismologists are not able to say how long the seismic sequence is going to last and how many aftershocks will take place. To give a precise answer to these questions, seismologists should be acquainted with so many details of the Earth complex system. Even if significant advancements have been made in understanding physical processes occurring during an earthquake, at the same time it has been demonstrated that even a very simple non linear system exhibits a very complex behaviour so that, in the case of earthquakes, it is impossible to predict an event on a short time scale. On the other hand, a human being is a so far complicated system. A person experiencing a seismic sequence, especially an important one, is suffering a stress-related disorder (ASD, PTSD). Psychologists agree in recognising in disaster victims the same psychological damages and stress consequences of patients suffering for other different types of trauma (i.e. lethal diseases, accident). The earthquake is therefore a further example of how communication in some critical circumstances requires a common and very well studied strategy in order to avoid serious consequences such as, in the case of natural hazard, the social amplification of risk. At the same time, the community preparedness could facilitate the difficult task of interacting with people when rapid decision must be made  within a short time frame. The last important seismic sequence occurred in Italy (Umbria-Marche, 1997) has shown that in our country such a strategy does not yet exist. Experts, journalists, policy makers are now moving the first step towards a common strategy of interaction with the public.
 

 

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Communication and natural hazard
Dealing with complexity in emergency. the experience of the 1997 Umbria-Marche earthquake in Italy

Tiziana Lanza  

The Earth is a complex system. Earthquakes are the outer expression of its internal complexity. Whenever an earthquake occurs, seismologists are not able to say how long the seismic sequence is going to last and how many aftershocks will take place. To give a precise answer to these questions, seismologists should be acquainted with so many details of the Earth complex system. Even if significant advancements have been made in understanding physical processes occurring during an earthquake, at the same time it has been demonstrated that even a very simple non linear system exhibits a very complex behaviour so that, in the case of earthquakes, it is impossible to predict an event on a short time scale. On the other hand, a human being is a so far complicated system. A person experiencing a seismic sequence, especially an important one, is suffering a stress-related disorder (ASD, PTSD). Psychologists agree in recognising in disaster victims the same psychological damages and stress consequences of patients suffering for other different types of trauma (i.e. lethal diseases, accident). The earthquake is therefore a further example of how communication in some critical circumstances requires a common and very well studied strategy in order to avoid serious consequences such as, in the case of natural hazard, the social amplification of risk. At the same time, the community preparedness could facilitate the difficult task of interacting with people when rapid decision must be made  within a short time frame. The last important seismic sequence occurred in Italy (Umbria-Marche, 1997) has shown that in our country such a strategy does not yet exist. Experts, journalists, policy makers are now moving the first step towards a common strategy of interaction with the public.
 

 

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